19 Sep 2013

Cook Islands water project faces unforeseen problems

4:33 pm on 19 September 2013

A project to lay 25 kilometres of new water mains in villages on Rarotonga has stalled, due to almost half the serviced homes not having modern plumbing to cope with the new system.

The project contractor has told the ministry of infrastructure there will be leaks and burst pipes in homes due to the improved water pressure.

While the Ministry insists there will be a prompt solution, it is not offering any help to families to upgrade their plumbing.

Alex Perrottet reports:

Several water projects are underway in the Cook Islands, including an upgrade to the water pressure in the villages of Tupapa and its surrounds. The job is almost complete, but the contractor, Landholdings, says many houses are going to have major issues once the mains are connected to their properties. Ben Parakoti says the systems in 40 percent of the homes are old and unfit for connection.

"BEN PARAKOTI: So we're recommending that either we don't connect the properties, or we actually recommend to the owners what they should be doing because otherwise houses are going to be flooded and all that."

Some in the Ministry of Infrastructure admit it's a problem. The secretary of the ministry, Mac Mokoroa, who only took up the job in July, says a better feasibility study was needed.

MAC MOKOROA: Yeah, most definitely. That groundwork should have been undertaken prior to this project being taken. The people who put together the feasibility study, it would have to be someone from the ministry. It would be nice if households undertake that exercise of sorting out any leakages inside their home.

But the Minister, Teariki Heather, denies that there was fault, and says it's just another bridge to cross as the project completes. And he's confirmed there's not going to be any help from the Government to those who need to upgrade.

TEARIKI HEATHER: I don't think it's a mistake. We are trying to get the project up and running, get all the leaky pipes, especially the mains. And we'll address that issue now because as of last week we've identified the amount of leaky pipes.

Ben Parakoti has also levelled complaints at the way water is distributed on Rarotonga. He says water tanks, which are helpful in drought periods, should not be attached to the water mains, as they put too much pressure on the system.

BEN PARAKOTI: I would remove everybody from the mains, with the water tanks, and have that as a backup system to the normal one of persons being connected to the mains. And at the same time it is quite difficult to police these things because people do their own thing over here.

But the Minister says Ben Parakoti has been looking after the water projects for fifteen years without mentioning the problem. Mr Heather says he's happy for people to fill their tanks from the water mains and use it as backup. Mac Mokoroa says the project is nearing completion and some houses may have water turned off for a period while the mains are connected to their properties.